Your Turn: Becoming a better problem solver in the courts

Recently, Douglas County voters narrowly rejected a proposition to remodel and increase the size of the Douglas County Jail and to fund the construction of a crisis intervention center. Faced with jail overcrowding and the continued need for crisis intervention programs in the community, the county must now find a way forward.

I first ran for office in 2004. At the time, I was considered a progressive and reform candidate myself, especially in the area of domestic violence, where “no drop” case policies were the national standard. My philosophy was simple: Domestic violence cases needed to be handled on a case-by-case basis where the prosecutor took into consideration not only holding the offender accountable but the negative consequences of the process on all parties. The mantra in my office for domestic violence cases continues to be “How do we resolve this case in a way that decreases the likelihood that these people will need us again in the future?” A conviction is not always the right answer.

Early in my prosecution career I was exposed to another philosophy about the handling of criminal cases and the role of the prosecutor by the American Prosecutors Research Institute: The idea that the modern prosecutor must move on from being simply a case processor to a problem solver. Again, a guiding principle in my office.

The question has been presented in our community that Douglas County should seek outside assistance from a national organization to review our criminal justice system. Specifically, Justice Matters has recently penned an open letter to the County Commission asking if it will support a comprehensive analysis of our local criminal justice system by one of the firms contracted by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for its Safety and Justice Challenge Program. Although the letter lacks details of what such a review would consist of, I am certainly not opposed to and in fact would welcome such a review of my office or the criminal justice system in Douglas County. After all, my office already has established relationships with some of the organizations involved with the Safety and Justice Challenge Program, such as the Center for Court Innovation and Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

As we shift away from the punitive nature of the justice system and focus on the contributing factors of criminal conduct, it only makes sense to explore the apparatus we use to process these cases so we can become better problem solvers.

— Charles Branson is the district attorney of Douglas County.


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